Watford are in exploratory talks with head coach Valerien Ismael over a new and improved contract after being impressed with his work since being appointed in May.
The discussions are understood to have started last month during the opening phase of the season. It is a sign of the belief that the hierarchy have in the work that the Frenchman and his staff are undertaking behind the scenes.
Watford’s 2-0 win over Birmingham on Saturday was only their second win of the season, but the ongoing dialogue over a new deal is understood to be based on an assessment of performances, training methods and an improvement in squad unity and discipline. Ismael has also played an active role in the recruitment of new players and decisions on those that have been released from the squad.
Watford did not officially disclose details of Ismael’s contract length when he succeeded Chris Wilder after the conclusion of the 2022-23 season, but it is believed to be a three year term with various clauses. Talks are now centred on lengthening the contract and including enhanced conditions.
The move may come as a surprise due to Watford’s reputation for sacking and replacing managers. Ismael is the 19th permanent appointment since 2012 under the Pozzo ownership and the club’s 11th head coach since the start of the 2019-20 season.
Explained his reason for appointing Ismael at a fans event in June, owner Owner Gino Pozzo said: “(Ismael) was the one who ticked all the boxes. This coach has experience at this level. We believe it’s a much stronger appointment. We wanted to make sure that the approach to training and discipline was to a certain standard.”
The Watford owner had been impressed by Ismael when he was in charge of Barnsley in the 2020-21 season, taking them to the Championship play-offs.
When asked about the feedback the club had given him after the first phase of the season prior to the win against Birmingham, Ismael told The Athletic: “I think they are pleased, I am pleased to be here. We feel like we are here to build something. It’s still a process, a transition process, we saw that clearly in the first block of games. Now in the next block we just need to step up, to do the next step with us.”
Late goals from Mileta Rajovic — his third in two starts since arriving from Swedish side Kalmar at the end of the transfer window — and Ryan Andrews in stoppage time began that “next block” in positive fashion with the 2-0 win over Birmingham City at Vicarage Road. The victory moved Watford up to 11th in the Championship with eight points from six games, three behind Birmingham in sixth.
“We’ve shaped the mentality, the discipline into the squad, into the club. Everyone is pleased and comes to the training ground with a smile on their face, despite the hard work we put on. Everyone believe in our way, so it gives us that confidence to continue that way,” Ismael said after the win.
Watford chairman and chief executive Scott Duxbury commented on the club’s satisfaction with Ismael when speaking at a fans event last month.
“We believe in the work and how that is translating to the pitch,” Duxbury said. “It’s a game of results and we’re aware there will be bad moments, but we’re going to stay patient and we need the supporters to stay patient. It’s very difficult to bring in coaches mid-season and try to get a change, because they can’t impart their work or their pre-season, which is everything. We’re certainly going to stand by and see that grow because we believe in it.”
Watford face Ismael’s former side West Bromwich Albion in their next Championship fixture on Wednesday evening at Vicarage Road.
(Photo: Morgan Harlow/Getty Images)